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May 10, 2006

What makes an anti-poverty campaigner steeped in working-class politics join the British National Party? Jane Kelly interviews Councillor Rose Thompson about why she joined the BNP

Posted by Jane Kelly

In March 2006 Rose Thompson, a councillor on Keighley Town Council and at that time Mayoress of Keighley, joined the British National Party. In the resulting furore, Rose Thompson was forced to stand down as Mayoress. In last week's elections Rose Thompson stood as a BNP candidate for Bradford Metropolitan District Council for Keighley East ward. She received 1,084 votes - with the winning Labour candidate receiving 1,954 votes and the Conservative candidate 1,364 votes. What makes someone like Rose Thompson, who is steeped in working-class politics, join the BNP? Jane Kelly interviews Rose Thompson and finds out.

The views expressed by Rose Thompson are her own. They are in no way endorsed by the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

Both the leading political parties have let it get to this – of course ordinary people are going to fight back – what do they expect?
Councillor Rose Thompson, 49, who lost her job as Mayoress of Keighley, West Yorks in March when she joined the British National Party, is talking about immigration, a subject until recently utterly taboo among politicians at any level.

But things have changed since Margaret Hodge - then Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions, now at the Department of Trade and Industry - felt forced to reveal that eight out of ten white voters in her constituency were thinking of voting BNP.

A Labour activists since she was 20, a former party official, she stood as a BNP candidate for Bradford Metropolitan District Council in the Keighley East ward on 4th May and lost by a fairly narrow margin to the Labour candidate. But she is undaunted.

Rose Thompson says:

I am going to carry on with the BNP, because the whole welfare system is collapsing.
Brought up immediately post-war in an age of free prescriptions, school milk and doctor's home visits, women like Rose still expect and need a lot of assistance from the state but she and her neighbours believe that money is being diverted to help immigrants, and last March she joined the BNP solely in the hope of:
shutting the door on immigration.
In doing this she lost a great deal. The Mayor of Keighley, her former friend Tony Wright, immediately discarded her as his Mayoress. He told the press:
What she's done is awful. I am very disappointed in her. It's shocking to me that she's done this.
Kris Hopkins, the Deputy Leader of the Conservative group on Bradford Metropolitan District Council opined:
She's brought disgrace on the town of Keighley.
When I met Rose Thompson she was at home, on the seventh floor of an eleven-storey block, with a broken lift, knitting and crying. Tiny and frail in discoloured white fluffy slippers, crocheting a scarf, with two budgies chirping in the background, she looked like a leftover from a grittier Carla Lane sit-com. She moaned:
When I told them I was going over to the BNP no one believed me, now I've done it and everyone hates me. The Mayor says he's disgusted and my sister won't speak to me.
She also has just been warned by a neighbour to expect some kind of assault, but she still thought it was worth it. She said tearfully:
I'm worried but I can deal with it.
But her sense of abandonment was palpable:
As a councillor I have spoken for everyone, but no one has ever spoken for me. I am not a racist but Labour and Conservatives have done nothing for me, nothing.

All the people I grew up with used to vote, we were told to vote Labour as we were going out the door, now hardly any of them vote – that is a big change. People up here feel there is no one on their side.

She says she has switched to the radical right out of real need:
In white areas there's nothing. No development, these flats have been up 45 years with hardly any improvements. We were told there would be money for a children's park but the money never comes to us, it goes to Asian areas like Highfield. They recently got £20 million there from Bradford City Council for upgrading. But Braithwaite, a white area, got only one million.
She's poorly educated but the name William Beveridge, the man who invented cradle to grave state provision, slips off her tongue. She says bitterly:
I can't believe he ever thought things would end up like this. People here can't get a dentist, they have to go to the other side of Leeds for a filling, and they are waiting for emergency hospital treatment while wards are closing.
She says desperately, as if she thinks no one, not even a reporter sitting in her front room, is listening:
I am not making this up you know.
That is the problem - she is one of the poor whose voice was heard by Beveridge in 1942, when he was writing his report on helping people with low incomes. Her voice was once a clarion call to Labour, but she feels they are deaf to her now.

BNP candidate Ian Dawson comes in wearing a Union Jack tie, badges of St. George and tattoos. He looks the type of semi-feral youth you might expect too see in the far right party, but he is accompanied by BNP Councillor James Lewthwaite, a plump, smartly dressed, bearded man who is obviously well educated. When he starts talking, which he does almost non-stop, Rose shuts up and seems to shrink a little and it seems surprising that she ever plunged into politics.

She came from a staunch Labour family. Her great uncle set up a brick-layers union in 1900.

He would turn in his grave if he could see what I've done,
she says sadly. She had four brothers and two sisters and was a bright child. She passed the 11 plus and took an entrance exam for a Catholic school in Bradford, won a place, but could not accept it. She says her father, a bricklayer spent all their money in working men's clubs.

Like her siblings she left school at 15 and worked in the now defunct mills, spinning, weaving and packing. She had three children but never married. She might have been expected to go to work, play bingo and watch TV, but instead she says she made a career out of "sticking up for people".

In the 1970's, the last gasp of doctrinaire socialism, she found her voice. When the mill closed, she got a job working with children in a community centre. She says:

It changed my life, I became really involved.
I wondered if she'd been affected by the tide of feminism rising in the 1970's. Laughing for the first time, she says:
D'you mean am I a Lesbian? You didn't get no feminism round here, thar's [sic] a London thing.
Nevertheless she developed her own radical voice. In the early 1990's she produced a booklet called Land of Hope and Nothing Else, a blast against the Tory government's policies in the north. She took part in a citizen's commission on the future of the welfare state, worked for the Child Poverty Action Group and was one of twelve commissioners from the UK who contributed to a UN survey aimed at ending poverty.

Then nine years ago, the welfare state let her down. She says:

When my granddaughter Shannon was born her mother couldn't look after her. She has severe mental health problems. I took the baby when she was four days old, but I couldn't get any child-care. As a relative I couldn't be paid like a fosterer, so I had to give up my job and go on income support, £70 a week for me and the child. All I wanted was a bit of child-care money but they turned me down.
She felt bitterly betrayed and responded by increasing her political activity.

She founded a group determined to break away from control by Bradford Council, and was instrumental in setting up Keighley Town Council in 2002. Tony Wright says:

In many ways she is a remarkable woman.
But now as her desperation and sense of abandonment has increased, she is prepared to embrace frighteningly radical solutions to get what she sees as social justice. She is one of those almost battered people who Labour politicians probably never meet, who have little or nothing to lose. She easily threw away her position as mayoral consort because social status means nothing to her:
I never really wanted to be a mayoress. I don't like wearing posh clothes, I've never had them. I thought the role would be too much for me. I grew up on a council estate and brought my children up on one, and suddenly I was offered this title, with a mayoral car, civic do's and fancy food. I were right nervy.

I liked wearing the chain though, it were beautiful, bought by good Keighley families bit by bit, and Shannon loved seeing it too. But I weren't sorry to let it all go – it was never right for me.

If she had been elected as a BNP district councillor on Bradford council last week she may not have been able to accept the post as it could mean losing her £600 a month income support and other benefits. All her life she's been battling poverty. You couldn't get more grass roots than Rose, and she still sounds like the Labour activist she was for so long. She says that her aim in standing was:
to get people out and voting again, get them involved in a valid working class movement, a party that sticks up for equality and fairness to all. There is no one else who is bothered about us, ordinary white families.
As I left she was rolling up her wool and getting ready for a Keighley Town Council meeting that evening. Her great uncle would recognise her words, he probably used them himself on many a soapbox and doorstep, but he'd be astonished to see who's using them now.

Jane Kelly worked as a full time staff feature writer for the Daily Mail for 15 years, but she now lives as a freelance journalist and painter in west London. She is chiefly interested in writing about unusual, usually unpopular people.


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Comments

Not wicked, just an ordinary woman, a frightened woman.

Open and unquestionable - question, if you dare - immigration policies have brought, in their wake, as any intelligent person could predict, horrendous problems. Not the least of these is an apppalling security problem.

Islam is now the elephant in the drawing room that no-one wants to talk about. This says it all:

"[There is] an elite consensus that de facto open immigration, multiculturalism, and the existence of a large Muslim diaspora within the Western world are to be treated as a fixed given, and must not be scrutinized in any anti-terrorist debate. That consensus, I contend, is ideological in nature, flawed in logic, dogmatic in application, and disastrous in its results. It needs to be tested against evidence, not against the alleged norms of acceptable public discourse imposed by those who either do not know Islam, or else do not want us to know the truth about it."

The political/media establishment has made a complete mess of things, a very dangerous mess. and now, on top of this, because they will not address the problem - although it may already be too late to do so now - they have made an opening for the Radical Right, a cure that may be worse than the disease.

Oh, don't miss this succint commentary either.

So a big thank you to successive administrations for allowing the situation to arise. And God help the next generation, because the politicians won't.

Posted by: Damian at May 10, 2006 05:01 PM
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Please stop calling the BNP right wing. It is - as this interview makes clear - a left wing organisation, in favour of Big Government. I grew up in the North and I don't find this story surprising at all. I feel rather sorry for her.

Posted by: Tom Paine at May 12, 2006 06:53 AM
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Great article. But the one mistake is calliung the BNP an extreme right wing party. It is really aleft wing party in that it's policies are based upon State intervention in economic and social life.

here in Oz we had a similar phenomenon "One Nation" which actuall won seats at Sate level and achieved a significant vote at Federal level. However, someone once did a comparison between One nation and the Greens and found that apart from immigration, their policies were remarkably similar. They were both folk Marxist parties.

BTW why are the Greens any more respectable than the BNP? The Greens are full of radical extremists who have little respect for humanity. yet for some reason the half-educated lefties in the media don't seem to notice.

Posted by: Peter L at May 12, 2006 07:37 AM
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Damian, excellent comments.

I think the Race Card is on the verge of failing here in the US. It's been used too many times, and instead of skulking away in silence, a LOT of people are openly starting to say, "Hey, wait a minute..."

And it isn't so much that the boy has cried, "Wolf!" too many times, it is that this time the boy crying wolf is one of the wolves... the Hispanics.

What people are starting to finally figure out is that there is no one alive today who is responsible for colonialism or slavery, or who can be held responsible for them.

However, if it IS possible to hold currently living people responsible for those terrible things, then the Hispanics are even MORE responsible, being "responsible" for the genuine horrors the Spaniards inflicted on Latin America and the Southwestern US.

Using the original rationale behind the use of the Race Card (White "guilt"), the Hispanics have no business using it... they qualify as Conquistadors, not Victims. They're the descendants of the Spanish soldiers who maurauded their way across Mexico and South America.

This new viewpoint came to my attention in a flash when some friends of mine from the Zuni tribe of Arizona, whose ancestors suffered through the horrors of the Spaniards, said of the Hispanic claims of racism, "THEY said WHAT???" This double-take is starting to gain ground.

The Race Card is finally beginning to look utterly ridiculous to wide swaths of Reasonable People, and it's starting to come down like the house of cards that it always was here in the US. Maybe a delayed reaction will hit Europe... and hopefully not TOO delayed!

Posted by: mamapajamas at May 13, 2006 11:14 PM
•••

Concerning the “right wing-left wing” bit, it is true that Fascist and Communist parties are largely similar in their methods. There is a difference, though, in that Communism sees itself as world-wide, overthrowing tradition, and its enemies are class enemies, while Fascism is nationalistic, pays lip-service to tradition, and sees external people groups and internal minorities as the enemy.

But the biggest difference is in their basic religion. While the Fascist thinks “we are the chosen ones” of some imagined god of their race, the Communist says “I’m not a religious hypocrite” and becomes more abominably self-righteous than any Pharisee.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at May 14, 2006 02:45 PM
•••

I am the daughter of Rose and I'd like to describe her from my point of view- She is the strongest, bravest person I know. The earliest memories of my Mum was of a woman so set upon helping others, always the one to never shy away from her beliefs! A caring person who is down to earth with a loving heart and a fantastic sense of humour! I have yet to see the frail, tearful woman you describe! I have seen my Mum stand among the most powerful people in Britain and tell them what they are doin wrong within our society! Are these the actions of a woman that would "shrink a little" ?

Posted by: Stephanie Thompson at May 30, 2006 08:39 PM
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It is Ian Dawson here. I have no tattoos and I am not semi-feral! I have a first class honours degree in International Economics, have no criminal record and only go 'wild' when Marxist wenches like this spout their usual nonsense derived from their perverted ideology. However, this 'wildness' that people like me succumb to will only drive us on to make the day when Marxist wenches go in to hiding in Cuba arrive early.

Posted by: Ian Dawson at July 26, 2006 08:24 AM
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I live on the same estate as rose thompson i respect her because she stands up for what she truly believes in it can't have been an easy decision for her to make as i myself voted labour but recently i have leaned to the BNP where immigration is concerned rose i think was thinking about her granddaughters future i mean the state this country is in now whats it going to be like when she grows up.

Posted by: Paul at March 24, 2007 10:44 AM
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I also live on the same estate as Rose, I just feel so sorry for her that she has lost everything by getting brainwashed to join the racist BNP.
Why are these evil people allowed to spread their nazi message of hate and division?
Yes we have free speech, but with that comes responsibility.

Posted by: Brian at August 24, 2008 10:33 AM
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